Florida's Statute of Limitations of Sexual Abuse

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Are There Statutes of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Crimes in Florida?

Florida does technically have both a criminal and civil sexual abuse statutes of limitations (SOL), but the civil SOL has a rather large loopholes that can usually allow most anyone to bring up a lawsuit.  

However, It is important to remember that the criminal statute of limitations that applies is the one that was in place at the time of the crime itself.  So while it may have been lengthened in the time since, if the limitation ran out, it can NOT be reactivated.  (Whether this is also the case for civil suits is currently being debated in many states). 

Example:  A man commits an act of molestation in 1965, when there was a 3 year SOL on the crime.  In 1970, the legislature removes the SOL from child molestation.  The man can still not be prosecuted, because the SOL had expired before the law was changed.  If the law had been changed in 1968, however, he could be prosecuted.

If you are the victim of abuse, the first thing you must decide is whether you are pursuing something criminally or civilly, as the statute of limitation is usually different between the two of them.  

Civil Lawsuits

In Florida, the filing of a civil claim dealing with sexual abuse or incest may be commenced at any time within:

The last provision deals with the "delayed discovery rule."  Florida is one of 28 states to have such a rule, which effectively extends the statute of limitations for sexual abuse.  Taking into account the unique nature of sexual abuse, the stigma associated with it, and the likelihood of  "repressed memories," Florida allows the statute of limitations not to begin until the victim "either knows or reasonably should know of the wrongful act giving rise to the cause of action."  This means that adults who "discover" that they were abused long ago have 4 years from such a discovery to file a claim, regardless of their age.  

However, the law says it cannot be used retroactively, and there is great debate in many state legislatures about that very premise, and many lawyers are trying to challenge it.  Your best bet is to contact an attorney familiar with any recent changes in the law in your jurisdiction.  

Criminal Cases

For criminal cases, a prosecutor may file a charge of aggravated rape at any time, regardless of the age of the victim and with no time limitation (an aggravated rape is generally a rape that involves a weapon, more than one person, or seriously injures the victim).  

Prosecution for sexual assault or abuse has a statute of limitations of four years.   However, there is an exception made for DNA analysis, which allows for the prosecution of a rapist anytime within one year of the discovery of DNA evidence, even if it is discovered after the ordinary statute of limitations period ran out.
In regards to child molestation specifically, there have recently been many changes to the statute of limitations nationwide.  Indeed, eleven states have completely removed the limitations for child-sex crimes in the past 10 years.  But after the Supreme court ruled that retroactively changing the statute of limitations (in order to prosecute crimes from long ago) was unconstitutional, many states were forced to scrap plans to do just that (Florida was one such state).  The current law only allows four years from the date of the incident, but the law is likely to change soon, as there are many bills on the floor (as of 2006) to extend it to 10 years.  

What's more, Florida has an extremely large number of complicated exceptions to it's limitation rules, so you should talk to an attorney familiar with Florida law for the most up to date information.

Do I Need an Attorney?

Sexual abuse is one of the crimes that benefits the most from statutes of limitations, as often victims are too ashamed or frightened to testify before it's too late.  If you are the victim of sexual abuse, a lawyer can help you by filing a lawsuit against your abuser, or by discussing with you the complicated issue of statutes of limitations within Florida.  But time is of the essence, so talk to an attorney and learn your rights today.

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Last Modified: 05-27-2010 11:08 AM PDT

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